“This is such a wonderful Christmas gift,” Dorothy Clark, a Wonder Lake resident for four decades, exclaimed as she watched dozens of men and women take down the overgrowth that prevented roof repair and blocked vision from the drive.

Dorothy and her 85-year-old husband, Korean War veteran and U.S.  Marine Corps veteran Cpl. George Clark, were overwhelmed with joy the day before Christmas Eve. Part of the couple’s roof had collapsed, but due to the extensive tree coverage, brush, ivy and other overgrowth, roofers couldn’t get through to work on the repairs.

Salute, Inc. – a veteran organization providing support and assistance to veterans – contacted Habitat for Humanity of McHenry County regarding the situation and, with a grant from Wells Fargo, the generosity of Habitat McHenry’s local partners and scores of volunteers, Habitat for Humanity ensured the Clark’s roof and driveway were cleared of brush and dangerous limbs.

Among the volunteers were dozens of Marine veterans. “It is great to see so many [fellow Marines] out here,” Cpl. Clark said. “Semper Fi … Semper Fi.”

Team Rubicon – a 501(c)(3) nonprofit disaster response team comprised of roughly 70 percent military veterans – brought in an experienced team including U.S. Army veteran John Stuhlmacher from Milwaukee.

“Team Rubicon gives military veterans a chance to use the skills they already have from the military and apply them to civilian life. …This is what veterans seek – a mission, a purpose. When we get to help out another veteran … that is a really powerful thing,” Stuhlmacher said.

The Clarks raised their family in the Wonder Lake home and have long had an overgrowth issue. “We are so fortunate – and we will have a new beginning,” Dorothy Clark said.

U.S. Marine veteran and construction manager Bill Lee said he was overwhelmed with the response from local veteran groups, which included the Veteran of Foreign Wars Post 5040 Woodstock.

Lee said the project would have cost Habitat for Humanity $30,000, but with all of the volunteer assistance the project will come in at half that cost.

“To see the Marines here supporting another Marine … today is cold … but the yard was full of volunteers – The McHenry County Marine Corps League, the McHenry VFW, Marine Corps League Tri-County Leathernecks, Woodstock VFW … and they are out in this cold the day before Christmas. It is amazing to see,” Lee said.

Cold was an understatement. McHenry’s Trees R Us and Team Rubicon expertly climbed trees and sawed off limbs, tossing logs off the roof, wearing protective gear, multiple layers, hats, gloves and heavy coats.

But the frigid cold was softened a bit by the warmth of a bonfire in the driveway and the hearts of the volunteers who battled the cold.

Dan Hedman, Habitat for Humanity director of operations, U.S. Army veteran and Woodstock High School graduate, expressed the reason behind his passion for this project.

“I absolutely love the opportunity to give back to the community where I grew up,” he said. “And any time I can help a fellow vet, it just makes it that much more special. If I could tell my fellow McHenry County veterans one thing, I would tell them not to let pride get in the way of asking for help. That’s exactly what Habitat McHenry is here to do.”

To find out more about Habitat McHenry County, visit habitatmchenry.org or call 815-759-9051.

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